National Parks: A Double Edged Sword?
Prof. Mark Bishop Newell
Tuesday July 21, 2009
Few places can match the sheer diversity of wildlife and culture that exists in the country’s national park system. Humans, with the future in mind, have “set aside” these beautiful sites of wonder and awe. But at what cost? Do national parks end up being good and bad at the same time?
Our national parks are a supposed to be a natural treasure. Here the unspoiled grandeur and beauty of nature can be appreciated in its most pristine form. However, the amount of people that are visiting these parks has risen to levels that threaten the very beauty and well-being of these paradises. Its now seems apparent that there is a price to pay for allowing humans into an area that did not have many humans before.
To understand the present state of the nation’s parks, and ultimately their entire future, it is crucial to first look back at the past. The first national park was Yellowstone National Park. This sprawling park contains such amazing geological and biological sites that it had been considered a national park long before it was ever officially named one. Its combination of diverse wildlife, and geologic features such as, waterfalls, canyons, geysers, and hot springs made it obvious to any who had experienced it, that this was a place that should be preserved just the way it was. That was why in 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant made it officially the world’s first national park. The only problem being, it was a completely unique creation, the first of its kind. This means that all ground that they covered would be new.
Due to inconsistencies with the way national parks were being governed, and the fact that there were was no central governing body for national parks Congress created a Pearly 2
National Park Service that would operate within jurisdiction of the Secretary of the interior. Signed by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916, the National Park Service Organic Act created the National Park Service which put the country’s national parks in its jurisdiction. Wendy Hart Beckman in her book entitled “National Parks in Crisis: Debating the Issues,” states that, “The Organic Act said the National Park Service’s purpose was to ‘promote and regulate the use of the… national parks… which purpose is to conserve scenery and the natural historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” When trying to unravel the ethics and issues concerning the parks one must keep referring back to this original mission statement.
The purpose of national parks is to enjoy the scenery and to leave it unchanged for future generations. However, this statement seems somewhat contradictory, when considering the fact that most national parks are areas that did not have native humans for much of their history. One of the first things to consider about this complex issue is: Why do people want to go there in the first place? Why is it important to them?
The first and most obvious reason to let people into our national parks is for their own personal enjoyment. People derive a great deal of pleasure out of leaving their boring, monotonous urban and suburban lives behind even if it is for just a weekend, or merely an evening. People in cites often lead sedentary lifestyles, and need to get outside in a natural setting even if it is just to walk. Some people might even think the air in these preserves tastes fresher! People get a taste of what the earth was like before humans were there. These Pearly 3
can be places of relaxing or exercising. Have a you ever scaled a thousand foot mountain? Hiking can be quite exhilarating. Parents can, in effect, introduce the next generation of conservationists to these areas. Children that have...
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